Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Backpacking Over Fifty

Life does not end when one reaches the half century milestone and beyond. In fact the adventure is just beginning. I’ve had several ask in forums if it’s possible to do a long distance hike in the older years. Of course! It’s never too late to enjoy an adventure and make the most out of every outdoor
opportunity. So the answer to - can I do it - is YES. Take a look at “Drag’n Fly” who became the oldest female thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Or “Nimblewill Nomad” who continues to meander on trails (actually hiking every one of the major trails in the US). Backpacking over fifty can have interesting challenges, but none are so insurmountable that you can’t enjoy a weekend, a week long or even a long distance trek. But it does take planning.

To begin with, getting cleared by the doctor to begin your new trekking adventure is important.
Make sure any current medical issues you are dealing with are either resolved or stabilized. One hiker had a transplant a while back and wanted to head out backpacking. Great for him but important to know when you are ready for such arduous activity. A doctor is your best source for this information and not other hikers. So too if you’ve had joint replacements, if you are diabetic, etc. All these things should be discussed with your doctor as well as any medication you may need to take. If you’ve had knee issues in the past or ankle issues, get them resolved ahead of time. It does no harm to begin your adventure by taking care of yourself at home, like doing exercises to help stretch out muscle groups and walking as much as you can (walking is less hard on the joints than running). Prepare yourself and your body for what is to come, and the hike will go much smoother.

Gear. It’s doubly important that you are carrying the least amount for a safe venture, especially as we age. While many of us can no longer just sleep on one of those simple pads, thankfully gear manufacturers are coming out with lightweight gear that helps reduce the pack load. Consider one of the 3 inch inflatable pads for instance. Or maybe even hammocking. Older bodies tend to get colder too, so make sure you have proper layers for hiking. Get checked by a good shoe professional when it comes to footwear. Poor footwear will quickly cause issues in the knees and hips—both major flair-ups for older hikers. A pair of trekking poles goes a long way to helping manage those hills and give balance. I have been known to carry more for comfort’s sake than a thirty year old. I have inflatable pillows for instance (Exped and Klymit make good ones). I carry more in my first aid kit than many. For instance, aspirin tabs are a good idea to help against heart attacks. I have discovered Penetrex and carry this on my hike for joint aches and pans. Watch taking lots of NSAIDS (like Advil) that have been known to cause ulcers and even other side effects in older people. Once you have all the essentials together, then check out backpacks. Get the one that is comfortable for you, not the one that is necessarily ultralight.

Food and Fluids. It’s most important that you drink lots of water on hikes. Water lubricates joints which can ache more often and become stiff. Carry a good water filtration system (I use the Sawyer Squeeze). I also am doing things differently with food. Much of the typical backpacking food contains way too much salt and sugar. For an older hiker, this can effect blood pressure and diabetes. Be sure to read the labels. Prepackaged foods also contain additives that cause issues – like MSG. Create your own meals and ship them out in mail drops (see food prep ideas). Use a guidebook to help you plan. Buying on the trail, unless it’s a big food store, limits you to more of the high salt and sugar products.   

Goals. We are not 20 anymore. I happen to be fiercely competitive and always want to do what everyone else is doing or what I have done ten years ago—in miles and goals. I’ve learned the hard

way it’s not a good idea. It can lead to overuse injuries that can wreck your hike. What you may have been able to do long ago is not the same now. Maybe twenty mile days were easy, but now fourteen is the max. Great! It’s your hike, your adventure, take it at your pace. Be kind to yourself. Take in the moment, rest by a stream, meet new friends, enjoy the scenery.

Make the most of the time you have in the great wilderness with the realization that you can do it at any age. 

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